As the coronavirus pandemic continues, some patients are thinking twice about going to their doctors for cancer screening, surgery and medical treatment, including those essential to breast health.
Don’t delay your care, says Lisa Jacobs, M.D., surgical director of the Breast Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins. The center has been performing breast surgeries throughout the pandemic, and all center locations are open and scheduling appointments for new and returning patients.
“We are very worried about patients who are at risk for breast cancer, melanoma or any other cancer delaying their checkups,” Jacobs says. “Canceling or postponing your recommended testing can result in missed cancer diagnoses and worsening of conditions that call for prompt treatment.”
At Risk for Breast Cancer or Melanoma? Don’t Wait
If your doctor says it’s time for your mammogram or in-person breast exam, there’s a good reason: Cancer is not taking a break during the coronavirus pandemic. Catching and treating cancers early on is essential to the best results.
Jacobs emphasizes that breast cancer screenings, such as physical breast exams and mammograms, need to happen on time, particularly if you have had breast cancer or if you are at higher risk for getting it.
“We check recently diagnosed cancer patients every three to six months,” Jacobs says. “Once patients are free of disease for two or three years, they can resume annual exams.”
Visiting the Breast Cancer Center: What You Can Expect
The Breast Cancer Center has policies and procedures at every location to keep you safe and protect you from coronavirus infection. Every doctor and staff member is screened for COVID-19 symptoms twice daily.
Face Masks and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
“All patients are screened at the door, and will be required to wear masks over their nose and mouth,” Jacobs says. “All doctors, nurses and staff will be wearing masks and face shields, as well as other protective garb in some cases.”
Cleaning and Sanitizing
“Our waiting rooms are cleaned and sanitized daily, and patient care areas after every patient,” Jacobs says, adding that her colleagues and staff are scrupulous about handwashing and sanitizing each time they enter or exit an exam or treatment room. “You will see more hand sanitizer than you can imagine.”
The staff at the Breast Cancer Center has staggered appointments so you won’t encounter many people in the waiting room. “Our waiting rooms have plenty of room for people to physically distance,” Jacobs says. “We have plexiglass shields in place in the reception area and other adaptations to make sure everyone is staying at least 6 feet apart.”
Some patients with breast issues may feel uncomfortable going to a large hospital for care during the coronavirus pandemic. This is a particular concern for those being treated for cancer, since some treatments can make them more vulnerable to infection.
Jacobs notes that most of Johns Hopkins’ breast care locations are in outpatient centers or in sections of hospitals separated from the general areas. Patients can often access their doctors’ offices and treatment centers without undue exposure to large numbers of people.
Visitors, Friends and Family
Our visitor policy has been modified to help reduce the spread of the coronavirus. We will return to a more family-centered approach as soon as we can.
Even during the pandemic, patients getting a new cancer diagnosis don’t have to go it alone. New advancements in telemedicine technology make it easier than ever for your loved ones to virtually join the conversation with you and your doctor, if and when you choose.
“The initial discussion is very important, and we encourage the patient’s partner, family member or friend to join the conversation by phone or tablet,” Jacobs says.
“Going over treatment options can be overwhelming to a patient who’s just learned they have a malignancy, and it’s important to have another set of ears there for support and note-taking.”
If You Are Scheduled for Breast Surgery: FAQs
Surgery is currently being performed at all Breast Cancer Center locations, most of which are free-standing outpatient facilities.
Do I have to have a coronavirus test before my procedure at the Breast Cancer Center?
Yes, says Jacobs. To keep everyone safe and reduce the spread of COVID-19, we have precautions to protect you, other patients and your care providers. Knowing your COVID-19 status before your surgery or biopsy is essential for us so we can provide the care you need as safely as possible.
When do I need to be tested for COVID-19?
You must be tested within two to three days of your procedure so we can tell whether or not you’re infected with the coronavirus.
Where should I get my coronavirus test before my procedure?
You will be scheduled for a quick, easy drive-through coronavirus test at a Johns Hopkins testing site. That way, we can ensure that we get your results back promptly so we can treat you at your scheduled time.
What happens if my COVID-19 test is positive?
Your doctor will work with you to figure out what to do next based on your particular situation. Your surgery might be postponed if your doctor determines it’s safe to do so. We can also help you with next steps for treating COVID-19.
What Breast Center Patients Should Know
The Breast Cancer Center is ready and prepared to safely screen patients, perform surgery and treat both malignant and benign breast disease.
Patients should follow their doctors’ guidelines on getting mammograms and breast cancer exams, but you should trust your instincts and speak up if any symptoms appear. If something about your breast looks or feels different, don’t wait to get seen.
“Don’t ignore symptoms,” Jacobs stresses. “You can arrange for a telemedicine visit to discuss any problem, and that conversation can help us determine whether or not you need to come in,” she says.